(Updates death toll in first, third paragraphs. See EXTRA and MET for more on the regional unrest.)
July 27 (Bloomberg) -- Syria’s Cabinet endorsed a draft election law aimed at quelling anti-government protests while pursuing a crackdown on dissent that human-rights activists said has left at least 21 demonstrators dead in the past day.
The proposal approved by ministers late yesterday will “regulate parliamentary elections” held every five years and establish a commission to “manage polls,” the state-run SANA news agency said. It follows the Cabinet’s endorsement this week of a bill allowing new parties to be formed. Previous elections have been monopolized by President Bashar al-Assad’s Baath party, a situation enshrined in the constitution.
Eleven people were killed today in a village near the capital, Damascus, Ammar Qurabi, of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria, and Mahmoud Merhi, head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, said in phone interviews today. Yesterday, seven were killed in the Damascus suburbs and three died near the restive northern city of Idlib, they said.
The demonstrations to demand Assad’s ouster began in mid- March and are part of the wave of unrest across the Middle East and North Africa this year that unseated the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia. Assad has blamed the Syrian dissent on a foreign conspiracy, while saying protesters’ demands “have merit” and that changes are needed.
The election and parties bills are part of a series of measures taken by Assad in an effort to quell the protests, which are the greatest challenge to his rule since he inherited power 11 years ago from his father. The Baath party has had a monopoly in Syrian politics since it came to power in a 1963 coup, after which all opposition groups were banned.
‘Unlikely’ to Mollify
Qurabi has said the legislation is “unlikely” to mollify anti-government protesters.
As many as 300 people were arrested in a security sweep of the town of Zabadani, near the border with Lebanon, Qurabi and Merhi said. “Tension is high” in Homs in anticipation the army may enter the central city, they said.
At least 1,950 protesters have been killed in the government crackdown since the uprising began, according to Qurabi and Merhi. Their groups have compiled the names of those killed, injured or detained. Thousands of Syrians have fled to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.
--Editors: Heather Langan, Digby Lidstone, Karl Maier
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